Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) showed a surprising turn of speed to win stage six of Paris-Nice from a bunch sprint, while Team Sky’s Richie Porte retained his overall lead ahead of the final stage.
Chavanel out-paced world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) at the end of a mountainous 220km stage which included five categorised climbs.
Porte, who moved into the overall lead after victory on stage five, finished safely in the bunch to maintain his grip on the yellow jersey, with Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) 32 seconds adrift and Chavanel a further ten seconds back.
“I am super happy,” said Chavanel, who leads the sprint classification. “It’s the second time I have won here in Nice, after my victory in 2008. It’s always a great emotion to raise the arms here. Today I decided to do the sprint because I was looking for some points for the green jersey.”
Eleven riders formed the day’s breakaway and opened up an advantage of nearly four minutes but the escapees were caught by the peloton with 37km remaining.
The mountainous route, which included back-to-back category one ascents in the second half of the stage, put paid to the hopes of many of the peloton’s fast finishers, leaving Chavanel to take the honours from a 60-strong group.
The final stage is a 9.6km time trial up the Col d’Eze, which rises to 501m above Nice. Bradley Wiggins sealed his overall victory on the climb in 2012 but, with the Tour de France champion not riding the race this year, Porte will hope to ensure the title remains with Team Sky.
“I know Col d’Eze very well as I live in Monaco,” said Porte. “I have to be confident. Yesterday I showed I had excellent climbing legs and this is a climbing time trial. There are still great time trial riders behind me but I have a 32 seconds head start on the next guy and it’s a nice position to be in.”